English is a living language, and by definition that means it will change. I came across an interesting word recently in the newspaper column “The Word” by Erin Reed (writing duties shared with Jan Freeman), and that got me thinking about a recent rant of mine. I was a little curt in my last post about invented words (e.g., mentee), and I want to soften my position a tad, yet not go totally squishy.
Erin introduced us to the new word “gleng,” meaning to pull on the door handle of a car just as the driver is trying to unlock it. She put it in the appropriate category of “finally there’s a word for that.” It’s a fun word. If you must call the common phenomenon something, why not that? Yet I can’t help having some reservations.
A new word could cause communication bottlenecks because it would require an involved explanation, thereby negating any potential benefit.
Is it a noun? I did a gleng.
Is it a transitive verb? Sorry I glenged you.
Or is it intransitive? OMG, I totally glenged. Sorry!
Or is it an expletive? Oh gleng, I did it again.
Obviously, I am not a complete curmudgeon since I can have fun with words. This from someone who once used Gestapo as a verb. Want to know how? Write to me, and by then I will have dug through my files and found the story where I used it.
Back to “mentee.” Some people say to use it because it’s in some dictionaries. So is “ain’t,” but I don’t recommend using that. One reason I have a bug about mentee is its lack of logic. If you use mentor as a verb, someone who is mentored would be a mentoree. That sounds stupid, you say? Oh, but using mentee indicates a stratospheric IQ.
This word is one of many that don’t follow a logical pattern. Someone who sings is a singer; the word denotes someone performing an action. Someone who is paroled is a parolee, someone who’s acted upon. Fine. So far the logic holds up. But why is someone who attends a conference not an attender but an attendee? A student has a teacher, but said student isn’t a teachee. That’s a form of Chinese exercise. I’m kidding; I know it’s tai chi. Teachee is the sound a Chinese baby makes when it sneezes.
(Aside: I made up that last part about the baby, but the sound of a sneeze is actually written in a variety of ways. In English, it’s written achoo, but it’s hakushon in Japanese, atchoum in French, atjo in Swedish, achee in Korean, and apsic in Polish. Onward.)
So here’s my softened stance on neologisms: I say have all the fun you want playing around with unofficial, unsanctioned words in your personal conversations and writing. My worry in coining or using new words is the impression it might leave in the world of business. This is a world where you never get a second chance to make a first gleng.